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Back to dark grey: Mural that divided opinions in West Hampstead is removed after being defaced

Defacers 'want in on the conversation', says arts organiser

06 August, 2020 — By Tom Foot

The wall as it looked this week

A MURAL which has divided opinion in West Hampstead has gone back to black – or dark grey – bringing the curtain down on a three-month row.

The Through Arts We Rise artwork had brought a welcome splash of colour to a tatty railway bridge wall, owned by Network Rail, in West End Lane. The project was designed to kickstart a debate about homelessness but sparked objections from local groups who said they were not properly consulted about it.

The choice of artist, Ben Eine, who had a conviction for punching his girlfriend in 2018, was also criticised by the charity Women’s Aid and NW6 residents.

How the railway bridge looked with the Through Arts We Rise mural

Organiser Alketa Xhafa Mripa, in a farewell post to the artwork, said: “Since its creation, the mural has raised more conversations, opinions, and drawn attention to biases than we could have imagined.”

Ms Mripa claimed the majority of passers-by had been in favour of the mural project and that this showed how the West Hampstead community “loves spontaneity”.

On the other side of the road, the bridge was sprayed with the faces of two homeless people and also John Henderson, who sold books outside the station for 20 years until his death last year. An image of his dog, Sugar, also appeared on the wall. This painting remains in place.

The painting of John Henderson on the other side of the road

The Through Arts We Rise mural, however, was defaced for the second time last weekend, with letters blacked out so that it read: “Through Arse Rise.”

Ms Mripa, who lives in West Hampstead, and got permission from Network Rail for the project, said: “We accept that those who have attempted to destroy the mural are also part of our community. We see their act of defacing the mural as their way of telling us, albeit forcefully and dangerously, that they too want in on the conversation.”

Mr Eine later said he felt unfairly targeted following his “one mistake”. He said it should not mean he could not continue creating street art.

A Women’s Aid statement had said: “We are concerned that someone who has been convicted of assaulting his girlfriend has been given an artistic platform in a public space without any consultation with local residents.”

Network Rail, who decided to remove the Through Arts We Rise mural following the latest vandalism, said: “Recently the written mural on the bridge has been vandalised. This has meant it has been important to quickly paint over the written mural. We know that these murals have been a divisive issue and now want to find a way forward that brings the community together.

“We do not ever want controversial or offensive messaging on our infrastructure.”

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